NDP calls for paid sick leave for health care workers forced to isolate

The NDP Opposition is calling on the province to reinstate special paid sick leave for health care workers forced into self-isolation due to COVID-19. 

Finance minister says workers can access federal program

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is calling on the government to help health-care workers forced to isolate due to COVID-19. (Alberta NDP )

The NDP Opposition is calling on the province to reinstate special paid sick leave for health-care workers forced into self-isolation due to COVID-19. 

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said at a news conference Tuesday that nurses were once able to access special leave if they had to be absent from work due to illness or exposure. But Alberta Health Services ended the measure after the province lifted the state of public health emergency. 

"What that meant is that starting in July, every health-care worker who has either gotten sick or been exposed and had to isolate as result, those folks have had to exhaust their sick bank and their sick pay," she said.

At the same news conference, Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray, the NDP's labour critic, read a letter that highlighted the situation facing casual workers who don't receive paid sick leave. 

The unnamed Edmonton casual registered nurse was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and forced to isolate at home after being exposed to the illness at work. 

"Our health-care workers need to know that their provincial government will stand behind them," Gray said in Tuesday's question period. "They should not have to worry about their bills when they are required to isolate. They do not deserve to have to shoulder that financial burden alongside all the other risks they are taking."

Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government offered emergency isolation payments last spring and ensured that workers forced to isolate wouldn't lose their jobs. 

He said workers who are sick or self-isolating can now access the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which covers 10 days of work. 

Notley said that benefit only provides $450 a week after taxes, which isn't enough to cover housing and food for many people.

The Alberta Federation of Labour is calling on the Alberta government to implement mandatory sick pay for all workers.

AFL president Gil McGowan said only 30 per cent of Alberta employees get paid sick days, leaving many with no choice but to go to work, even when they are ill, creating more spread of the virus. 

"We'll never get the isolation part right until we make it easier for everyone to actually stay home without fear of being unable to put food on their tables or pay their rent or mortgage," McGowan said in a news release. 

"Lack of support for the isolation piece of our provincial COVID-19 strategy is our Achilles heel. Mandatory paid sick leave would help address that weakness."